Two years ago, on Jacob's first trip to Hong Kong, we stayed with my great aunt in North Point. On the first morning my aunt dashed downstairs to her favorite congee stand, and came back with a big take-out tub of plain congee and you jia gui, or Cantonese fried dough. We instructed Jacob to dunk a piece of fried dough, and sprinkle some white pepper on the congee before eating. One mouthful later, he was hooked and couldn't stop talking about congee for the rest of the trip.
This simple rice porridge is a staple at the Cantonese breakfast table. It's cheap, filling, and available wherever you go in Cantonese-speaking areas. (Dim sum is more of a weekend and special occasion treat.) And as many expats and visitors to Hong Kong and Guangzhou have discovered, congee is also a great hangover cure on Sunday mornings. I can't think of any other breakfast that is both as light and as filling.
Of course, sometimes the best congee (or jook, as it is called in Cantonese) is homemade. It's easy to whip up and endlessly adaptable. Chicken congee, pork congee, seafood congee, you name it. Most Cantonese home cooks use chicken stock as a base, but you can just as easily make a vegetarian version with good vegetable stock. Add carrots, broccoli, and some shiitake mushrooms for that nice umami flavor, and you're good to go.
In lieu of fried dough, I also sprinkle roasted peanuts on top for a nice crunchy texture.
Vegetarian Congee Adapted from The New York Times
1 cup short-grain rice 2 cups vegetable stock 6 to 8 cups water 5 or 6 dried shiitake mushrooms 1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped 1 large carrot, peeled and finely diced Salt to taste 1 medium head of broccoli, cut into little florets 1 tablespoon scallions, thinly sliced 1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
Wash rice, and put it in a large pot with vegetable stock. Place over high heat until stock boils, then add about 4 cups water. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water as necessary (about 2 to 4 cups more.)
Soak 4 or 5 dried shiitake mushrooms in hot water until softened. Remove stems and thinly slice. After congee has been boiling for half an hour, add mushrooms to pot, along with ginger, carrots, and a generous pinch of salt. When the congee is almost done, add broccoli florets. Salt to taste. Serve hot in individual bowls and garnish with minced scallions and peanuts.